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Reviewed by:
  • Hamlet, Prince of Denmark
  • John King
Hamlet, Prince of Denmark Presented by New York Classical Theatre at the World Financial Center, New York, New York, April 1–3, 6–11, and 13–18. Directed by Stephen Burdman. Production design by Amelia Dombrowski. Fight Direction by Shad Ramsey. Fight Captaining by John-Patrick Driscoll. With Justin Blanchard (Hamlet), Rita Rehn (Gertrude), John Michalski (Claudius), Ian Stuart (Polonius), Ginny Myers Lee (Ophelia), Shad Ramsey (Laertes), John-Patrick Driscoll (Horatio), Alex Camins (Rosencrantz), Scott Kerns (Guildenstern), Anthony Reimer (Francisco, Lucianus, Gravedigger), Clay Storseth (Barnado, Player Queen, Osric), and Nick Salamone (Marcellus, Player King, Priest).

New York Classical Theatre engages in what its director Stephen Burdman has dubbed "panoramic" theatre. Performances take place not on a stage, but in very public spaces, and every five to ten minutes, the scene changes, meaning the actors leave, and if the audience wants to finish the play, it has to rush after them. This sounds like the stuff of zany parody—fortunately, the reality is wildly better. The company, in its eleventh season, has nearly perfected the "panoramic" process. When possible, the actors direct us where to go, in ways that are consistent with scene shifts; occasionally, Burdman and his team of ushers serve as guides. This sense of volition proves strangely addictive. Furthermore, the locations in New York do remarkable work as settings. Add to this experience the generally superior acting talent of its troupe, and New York Classical Theatre must be admired.

Its Hamlet last spring dashed all over the World Financial Center, which made a fine ersatz Elsinore. Extremely downtown, the buildings of the WFC are tall, oversized, and archly posh. I am not sure I have ever beheld more marble in my entire life. When Hamlet made his first appearance, his Romantic costume did not look out of place—the patrons of the WFC and the spectators might have looked out of place, but Hamlet himself and the Napoleonic-garbed watch seemed precisely where they ought to be. To suggest wealth, power, and grandeur, this capitalist temple felt more resonant than a castle could, and the panorama of the scene surpassed what could be accomplished within the parameters of traditional theatre. Textual resonances were also enabled by NYCT's setting. Slightly tweaked, Hamlet's earthy line about where to find Polonius's body ("if you find him not within this month, you shall nose him as you go down the stairs into the lobby") meant something much more immediate when we had watched Polonius die in a lobby. [End Page 573]

There is something giddy—so perversely apt—about having Ophelia shrieking at the audience to follow her to some nook of this Byzantium of commerce, before a window showing off the twinkling downtown skyline, with the Ground Zero cranes somewhere behind us, silently swiveling in the construction of the new World Trade Center. These cranes are only partly visible, in only one scene, and so should not be construed as part of the "set," which would be in unforgivable taste. Ground Zero is, after one arrives, mostly an afterthought, yet the opulent World Financial Center's proximity to it is a least a little unsettling, this locus of nightmares—indicated only by the geometric spires of a few cranes, some oversized klieg lights, and six stories of construction, directly next to this dazzling, infinitely marbled maze of parlors. The subconscious pressure of this latitude and longitude is nearly sublime.

For those who know the play well, there is much amusement to be had in watching the scene transitions. When Hamlet chases after his father's ghost, the watch chases after him, and they, staying very much in character, invite us to chase the prince with them. And after Hamlet has gotten the watch and Horatio to swear to keep their secret, Hamlet looks up at the audience seated at his feet, raises his hands graciously, and says, "Come, let us go together," thus inviting us, as if we, too, were his friends, to the royal court's stage.

While it is the job of theatrical actors to ignore the distractions of the audience's presence, one might think that the...


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